24 April 2019 14:42
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This morning, when we got up we heard waves and birds for the first time in a long time. We are in Georgia at the Black Sea. In September we met with a lot of tourists here. Now we have the beach all to ourselves.
A month ago in Siberia, winter boots, coats, hats and gloves were the order of the day. Since the beginning of November we'd had negative temperatures and longed to spend more time outdoors and to take longer walks. Of course, you can do that in the snow too, but when you sink up to your knees with every step, it quickly becomes difficult.
This stage began in Novosibirsk, west Siberia. It's a city with over one million inhabitants. From there we drove to Omsk and then over the border to Kazakhstan. With our Russian visa we can only ever stay for three months in the country and we still had ten days left.
We found a parking space on a main road where we wanted to spend our last night in Russia. Just before we went to bed, someone suddenly started knocking on the outside of our body box: two armed soldiers were standing at the door. It seems we were “camping” in a military zone out of which we were now escorted in a friendly manner. The sleeping place they gave us was practically ten metres away from the border. Although we have crossed borders 70 times with our own vehicle we are still always a little anxious. Because you can never know what awaits you.
Luckily everything went smoothly this time. After half an hour we reached Kazakhstan. Our destination was Astana. Although we are not really fans of cities we were really impressed with Kazakhstan's capital. The centre is almost futuristic and the opposite of the rest of the country. At twilight we toured the sights. We parked behind the opera house overnight – in the middle of the city!
After leaving Astana, we had to find water urgently. So off to the river. Everything was already starting to thaw. Mike preferred not to drive the truck too close to the river bank. We were afraid of getting stuck. In order to get by until the next water source, we even melted snow for a whole evening. We finally found a drawing well in a village and were able to fill our tanks one bucket after the other. By the way: one bucket holds 15 litres and our tanks 450.
Really we wanted to drive longer through Kazakhstan on our way west, but over the first three days we were stopped by the police several times. Once the policemen claimed that the speed camera had caught us doing 100 km/h. But our Axor can't drive that fast. After two days of driving after leaving Astana, we were so annoyed that we decided to drive back to Russia and continue from there. So we turned off to the right instead of to the left and were back at the border again.
Once we'd arrived back in Russia we were greeted with strong winds and a lot of snow. The further west we drove, the heavier the traffic became. Columns of tractor units struggled uphill on the icy roads. We were amazed that no one had mounted snow chains. At a few places in the Ural mountains we had to wait several hours until the queue began moving forwards again.
Along the way we visited Volgograd which, as you probably know, was once called Stalingrad. The city is famous for the terrible battle there during the Second World War. Again we were lucky and were able to stay overnight directly behind the Motherland Calls statue, finish a photographic tour in the dark and see an impressive changing of the guard the next morning.
After Volgograd the snow disappeared and the first signs of spring could finally be seen. We made use of the better weather and made good ground.
The regional capital, Krasnodar, is one of the centres of southern Russia. Here we visited our friends Eugene and Tatjana. We actually wanted to drive with them to the Black Sea and camp. But it more or less rained non-stop. So instead, we had a wet tour of the city and beer in a typical “Kafe”. For us it was particularly interesting to talk to both of them about their life in Russia. Repeatedly we realised: to learn more about a country and its people, you need to be able to speak the language better. We will be better prepared for our next visit.
There was still something on our to-do list: we finally had to have our door locks repaired. Eugene took us to a truck workshop for that. For over a month every night, we had been removing everything that was important out of the cab and into the back only to put it back up front again the next morning. Even when we were shopping – because you can never know. Now we can lock up as normal. It's the small things in life which make it easier!
The border to Georgia was only another 500 kilometres away. We were looking forward to warmth, lovely stone-baked bread, the Black Sea and also Turkey, but we had enjoyed Russia a lot. We would rather have not left the country at all. Over the past months we had met super people and seen breath-taking landscapes. And yet there is still so much more to see! We will definitely be back.
Russia and Georgia have only one open border. It is deep down in a windy valley. After the border, the road leads up over the 2400 metre-high Jvari Pass which is part of the Caucasus mountain range.
A kilometre-long queue of trucks stood at the bottom of the pass. We drove by and up the snow-covered pass. We had already driven up the road last September, although with no snow. Now the track was so narrow that no two cars could pass. Luckily, almost no traffic came towards us.
We had to wait on the pass because a car was stuck. We were forced to park very close to the edge of the road so that the tow truck could pass. I felt a little uneasy because there was a steep drop right next to the road.
After an hour or so in a snowstorm, we were finally able to continue our drive downhill. A few hairpin bends later we reached the valley where the temperature was about 15 degrees above zero.
We bought a loaf of stone-baked bread and made ourselves comfortable close to the Ananuri castle at a water reservoir. We took a break for a day after passing Tiflis, the capital. After all, over the past four weeks we had covered almost 5000 kilometres, three countries and crossed four borders.
Also we urgently needed to do some spring-cleaning in our box body: that meant everything out, washing, cleaning, the winter clothes in the stowage box and the summer things into the cupboards.
Now we will spend a few days at the seaside in order to digest our impressions. And then its off towards Turkey!
4-Xtremes – the tour of superlatives.